Transactional analysis – an introduction


This is a biggy – I mean you really can study that and yes it is hard and needs your full attention and I hope you will find it useful, as it was a hellufajob to put the pieces together in order to express what I want to say.

The shortest of all versions:
If you are aware how you have been programmed during your childhood, you are able to avoid “reflexes” that do not help in daily communication. If you actively reflect on the motivation of a person in a conversation and act accordingly (as adult), you find easier ways to bond and connect and create stable relationships based on sincerity and trust.

So please forgive me if it is too complex, but I wouldn’t know how to simplify it more.


Transactional analysis in a nutshell – Key Ideas

“I’m ok – You’re ok” – You certainly heard this line before, it’s a classic in kitchen psychology quoted by almost everyone, who is interested in or has to do with people in his daily life. Dr. Eric Berne, a psychiatrist,  developed the surrunding concept in the 1950’s and named it: Transactional Analysis (TA). Apparently it goes back to a break- through approach to human psychology while working with a patient who was an attorney, who admitted having done something he regretted doing just with the words  “… the child inside me compelled me to do it anyways”. Out of this enlightning moment he created and developed an enire psychological model we today refer to as Transactional Analysis, or TA for short. In his model Berne states that everyone has three ego states: Parent ( P ), Child ( C ) and Adult ( A ).

Why am I telling you this? – Because as most of the time I think it matters – in this case quite big time, I would guess.

TA can be a helpful tool in the way you understand yourself, thus how you interact with people in a smooth and well “ok” way, be it in professional life or in especially in your private life.

Yet, before we can deepdive into it, we will have to clarify some terms – I am sorry, but without the basic concepts and vocabulary the whole thing reads like gibberish mumbo jumbo.

So, here we go:

“I’m OK – You’re OK”

expresses TA regarding people as basically “ok” and thus capable and willing to change, grow and to healthily interact. “I’m OK – You’re OK” expresses this idea in the shortest possible way: I want to establish and reinforce a position recognizing the value and worth of the every person, but specifically the person I have to do with right now.


Berne suggests in his concept that people need positive “strokes”. Try to interprete at a stroke as a token of interpersonal recognition, which everyone needs to survive and thrive. The trick in TA is that you want to understand, how people give and receive “strokes”, positive ones to encourage and negative ones to demotivate. Understanding how people give and receive positive and negative “strokes” and trying to change unhealthy patterns of “stroking” are powerful aspects of work in transactional analysis.

Ego States

Ego states are an easy and understandable way to look in to any kind of interpersonal transaction. TA suggest three ego states. – Parent ( P ), Adult ( A ) and Child ( C ). Each ego state embodies an entire system of thoughts, feelings and behaviours as a basis from which people interact. These ego states are the foundations of the entire theory and have spread out of the pure doctrine into various areas of training, education, consulting and of course therapy.

Everyone of us has a personal model of Parents, Children and Adults and we tend always to play and act within these roles when communicating. We even do it with ourselves when we soliloquize. There are several angles in the three egostates – and I hope you can recognize which ones you tend to use…


It’s ok – The Nurturing Parent (NP) is the “mother-figure”, caring and concerned (also valid for men). They key words of this state of mind are contenting, comforting, understanding, caring, nurturing, helping, … – “You can be anything you want to be.”

Stop that – The Critical Parent (CP) as antipode to NP tries to control, order, judge, transmit values and beliefs etc. All in the intention to make one live up to the current status of society (there may be a lot of morality and bigottery in it too). Domination and violence can be extreme ways of acting for a CP. – “Finish the food on your plate!”


“ – “ – The Adult (A) is the grown up and rational self – governed by reason and logic. No control or aggressive reaction is taken –  Think of it as Mr Spock from Start Trek.


Whoa – The Natural Child (NC) is open and vulnerable and likes to play. NC are not very self aware and typically use non speech noises like yahoo, whee, wow, arghh, etc …

Let’s try … – The Little Professors (LP)  is curious and exploring. They always try out new stuff and deeply annoy CPs. LP and NC together are the synonym for the free child

No, please – The Adaptive Child (AC) interacts with the world and reacts to stimuli from it either in giving in or in rebelling against forces they feel.

In other words:

– Parent is our ‘Taught’ concept of life
– Child is our ‘Felt’ concept of life
– Adult is our ‘Thought’ concept of life

The relevant piece of information here is that you all have a little something from everyone in you, and of course a predominant side as well. The trick is now to us this knowledge in communicating (with transactions).


A transaction simply is a piece of communication exchange between two people. Transactional anlysis as the name implies wants to recognize which ego state of a person is sending the communication and consequrently act and intervene in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of the message as such.

The good news is if you are aware of the ego-states and your own predominance, you can start to steer the way you communicate in – all you need to know is that if you act out of an specific ego state you will automatically evoke a reaction from an opposite ego state    e.g. as an AC with a rebellious twist you will evoke a reaction in the CP

To avoid conflict avoid to go into the trap of responding in the opposite ego-state, but try to respond on the same level or as an adult.

Knowing is power – if you are aware, you can steer.

Also mind yourself often we just “play” a certain prerecorded script not really excpecting a genuine reply – who wants to hear the real answer behind “Hi there, how are ya?”

These prerecorded situations have been identified as games by Berne and he found a lot…

Games People Play

In TA certain behavioural patterns are known that are socially disfunctional, those are referred to as “games” In fact these are communication patterns that reinforce negative strokes instead of good ones – so in that sense games people play are rather negative and manipulative than positive and welcome. Some people play consciuosly others are completely unaware of the “mess” they make in communicating in the way they do it.  Berne collected these games and named them according to their main messages – the most famous ones being: “Why Don’t You, Yes But,” “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB,” and “I’m Only Trying to Help You.” (He wrote an entire book on them and for deeper knowledge it is recommended, but It is not an easy one: Eric Berne: Games People Play)

Life Script

The Life script is to be seen as the pre-conscious life plan governing the way we live our lifes. This script is the result of one’s experiences, good and bad ones and also is programmed with self limiting decisions that we have taken in our childhood in order to survive (supression of traumata you may find here). The basic idea of Berne is that if you manage to change the script, than you change your life. Replacing violent organizational or societal scripting with cooperative non-violent behavior can result in the “I’m ok – you’re ok” state of mind.


In TA the basic idea is that everyone can decide what kind of life one wants and thus tries to establish mutual “contracts” for change. These contracts are established between the client and the therapist, trainer, coach, teacher, etc.

Now having said that, and I hope it is helpful, let’s find out what the whole thing has to do with you and your daily life. Everything and of course nothing. TA is a way to look at human behaviour and reasons for it and it hands you over the knowledge to deal with communication between humans. Depending on your personal script you will start or respond to communication from your adult state, but sometimes – when argueing with your partner, having fun with your friends, managing a team or selling it can come in handy to know how and more importantly why people act as they do.

Leaving apart the private life, TA helps you to recognise games that some of your teammembers certainly play or try to play with you sometimes (normally you feel it and you are also normally quite not so happy about it) and more importantly could give you a way to respond without escalating but on the contrary respond with deescalating. So it becomes your choice if someone who provokes you gets the answer of the rebel (AC) or the boss (CP) or if you decide to answer as a grown up  (A) or with comprehension (NP)

As you can study TA over years, please do not excpect these few lines to be exhaustive and giving you the easy way – there ain’t an easy way, but it can create awareness and thus be helpful.

Selling in an “I’m ok – you’re ok” ego state

If dealing with customers it is a whole of a different story as you actively can decide to put yourself into an ego-state that avoids obstacles but supports selling.

You guessed right it is not the critical parent nor the child that sells it is either the Nurturing parent or the nurturing parent with an adult at the side.

If you have been raised fairly conservatively – and I bet the bigger part of us has been raised that way the one thing you remember from your childhood is: “Do not talk to strangers!” If you are aware you can overcome this script if not you always will struggle with the opening of a conversation and yes I deeply belief the issue is in the programming you receive as a child and not because it is hard to find the right words (this is rubbish).

Also maybe the Little professor or the adapted child are not the right ways to talk to customers as their scripts mostly are based on feelings and emotions (and they take over)

The Adult state synthesizes, contextualises is less emotional and less judgemental and may be this is a good starting point to start a conversation. To connect and bond with people at a later stage it could be wise to let also have the Nurtuting Parent be part, if not overtake the talk, as you want to find the right thing (A) in a pleasant way (NP)

By the way if your customers come to you they most likely might be in a Child ego state as they are discovering, treating themselves, want to play, be part of something, entertain themselves etc. (NC) They might want to prove you that they know more than you do (LP) in. Also you may have to deal witht he adapted child wanting recognition and wanting to please in seeking your advice and your approval. In essence the child as customer wants to “be ok”

Just be careful that you respond out of the right ego state – as a Nurturing Parent or Adult. Always. No exception. Leave your Child and your Critical Parent at home when you come to work. Even if you tell an anecdote or funny story to your customer – let the Nurturing Parent be in charge. The critical Parent and the Child have to stay in the car.

This is extremely important    the logical and knowledgeable adult needs to take all decisions and needs to direct all the conversations in order to ensure that cultural codes are respected, personal likes and dislikes of the customer are detected and responded to and that the critical parent stays out of the way and the prospect is not upset.

When selling you nurture, nurture, nurture and please use some adultry from time to time.

If you think you are going through a course of psychology and not selling – well you are right, basically you sell to a person who lies on a couch or in other words: “Selling is a broadway play performed by a psychiatrist” – heard that line somewhere and think it cannot be more true.

Big ideas

1.) We all are programmed during our childhood
2.) Being aware of it helps us to avoid traps
3.) In sales and management to put yourself actively in the ego state of Nurturing Parent and Adult is highly effective as this
… raises your credibility towards your customer, your team and your management
… lets you bond and connect quicker and deeper
… establishes trust more easily and profound and thus helps to create stable relationsships as a foundation for the future


Thanks for your appreciated attention – Cheers!

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